Pastor Edward Brouwer 2-18-18 “Traveling with Jesus – into the Wilderness” Matthew 4:1-11
Traveling with Jesus: Into the Wilderness
This past week saw the beginning of Lent. Tuesday was Mardis Gras, the traditional last day of revelry before Ash Wednesday, which for many Christians represents a time of fasting and reflection on the Suffering of Christ leading to Good Friday and ultimately His resurrection on Easter. I grew up in a fairly strict Dutch Calvinist home, so there was never any talk about giving up something for Lent—I didn’t know what Lent was. And when I first became aware of Lent it was basically explained as part of a system for Roman Catholics and not Protestants. This view coming undoubtedly from Calvin’s own words in his commentary from Matthew 4 in which Christ went on a 40 day fast. Calvin (referring to the RC tradition of Lenten fasting) writes, “to believe that fasting is a meritorious work, and that it is part of godliness and of worship of God, is a very base superstition”. Calvin’s commentary on 16th Century European Roman Catholic practice aside, many Protestant churches do now celebrate Lent as a season of hungering and thirsting for righteousness. And I would like us to look at Christ’s 40-day wilderness fast as we begin a series in Lent entitled Travelling with Jesus. We will go to seven different places with Christ as recorded in the gospels, over the next 7 weeks, leading up to Easter Sunday. This week we go to the Wilderness for an encounter with the Tempter, that serpent of old, Satan.
Read Matthew 4:1-11
At our Bible study discussion this past Tuesday someone asked “did Jesus overcome the devil through his divine nature or his human nature?” Theologians have discussed this and it’s a good question to ask because the answer helps us to understand how we are enabled to overcome the temptations of the devil. Jesus was fully human and fully divine. We see moments in the gospels where Jesus is clearly operating out of his divine prerogative (Jesus knew their thoughts Matt 12:25 and Luke 4:29 when they failed in their attempt to throw Jesus off the cliff—for it was not yet His time). At other times he is clearly limited by his human nature (The Son of man does not know the day or hour of the Second Coming Mark 13:32)
Or here in this text, where Jesus is clearly hungry after 40 days of fasting. Here again, he is limited by his human nature. He is like us in every way except without sin Hebrews 4:15 tells us, and this is to encourage us that Jesus knows our grief and pain and sorrow because he took on our flesh to be the unique High Priest who intercedes for us. As Corrie Ten Boom could say in the hellish nightmare of 1944 Ravensbruck Concentration Camp “there is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still”.
But here is the difference between Jesus and us. Jesus did not have a fallen human nature. Wait you say. But isn’t sinfulness part of the human condition, you ask? Yes, but not inherently so, not originally so. When God created Adam and Eve, they were fully human and had the ability to sin or not sin. They had free choice, otherwise the test would not have been a real test. Here’s how Augustine described the 4 conditions of the will: 1) able to sin and able to not sin 2) not able not to sin 3) able not to sin 4) not able to sin.
Jesus through the virgin birth, conceived by the Holy Spirit had a fully human nature just like Adam and Eve before the Fall. Able to Sin and Able not to sin.
And here is why the Temptation in the Wilderness is an important theological concept. Because Jesus is the Second Adam who is going through a food test with Satan BUT unlike Adam, who made the wrong choice, Jesus made the right choice. This is how Paul puts it in Romans 5:15 “But there is a great difference between Adam’s disobedience and sin, and God’s gracious gift of life in Christ. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death into the world. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through the obedience of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.”
So the test in the wilderness was a real test. Jesus had a real choice; since He had a true human nature—but Jesus, unlike Adam choose obedience to the Father. Each time and right up until the Garden of Gethsemane (also an allusion to the Garden of Eden) he said “not my will, but Thy will be done”.
Satan is throwing everything at Jesus at the start of Christ’s ministry because he knows this is an all out assault by God from heaven on his domain (Satan being thrown out of heaven with a third of the angels and now be the prince of this world, and we being his captives so to speak). God’s Kingdom in Christ is advancing and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!
So getting back to our question, did Jesus simply make the right choice with no divine help? No. How do we know this? Because the Gospel writer’s all tell us that the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his Jordan River baptism and Luke especially makes a point that the Spirit leads him to the wilderness and that Jesus is FULL of the Holy Spirit. It was the fullness of the Spirit in Jesus that enabled him to say no to the devil and yes to God.
And this is the hope that we have because Jesus conquered the devil: In Christ, because he has dealt a deathblow to Satan’s power over us, we, by the Spirit now DO have a choice. We can say no to the flesh and yes to the Spirit. This is how Paul put it to Titus, the young pastor on the island of Crete 2000 years ago: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Are you experiencing a wilderness in your life right now? Are you in a place where it seems so unbelievably hard to ward off the accusations of the Accuser and Tempter? Don’t try to do this alone. We do not have to face our Enemy alone. Jesus is with you now—he is with you in that addiction that seeks to destroy you. Invite the Spirit in to fill the deepest needs and longings of your heart. Jesus is with you in the wilderness of pain and suffering where you are wondering does Jesus see this? Does God care? Where the temptation is like that of Job just to “curse God and die”? No Jesus is with you now—“though he slay me yet shall I praise him”….and yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me.
Lent is a season of hunger. And if you are choosing to give up something during Lent remember the words of Jesus, who said “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled”. And with what shall they be filled? With Jesus himself. Because when Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread, he told Satan “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. What is that word? Jesus himself! When the religious leaders in John 6:31 said “show us a sign that you are the promised One” Jesus said “God provided manna, bread from heaven, to sustain His people in the wilderness, but I am the true Bread of Heaven! And whoever comes to me will never hunger! As we travel with Jesus, let Him take your hand and prayerfully, intentionally walk with Him through the trials and wilderness of your life, so that at the end of this season you may say “I know more of him” and be able to say “from glory to glory He’s changing me, his likeness and image to perfect in me by the Spirit’s work”.
(2 Corinthians 3:18)